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On This Day (21 May 1965): Sunderland move in to fill the Roker Park hot seat

Ian McColl was appointed Sunderland manager 57 years ago today, but early expectations soon faded.

The Ian McColl era began on Wearside on this day in 1965, and at that point, big things looked to be on the cards. The new man boasted an impressive record from his time as boss of the Scotland national side, and with money being made available for squad strengthening the future looked bright.

McColl was being brought in to replace George Hardwick, who had guided Sunderland to a respectable finish the previous season – their first back in Division One after promotion in 1964. His departure was something of a shock therefore, but when McColl then left his own post shortly afterwards, he was quickly identified as a prime candidate for the vacant position at Roker Park. Reports suggested talks with chairman Syd Collings were swift, and after a meeting of the directors earlier in the day, it was confirmed shortly after 15:00 that he had taken the job.

Chairman Syd Collings (right) and fellow board member Vice President Stanley Ritson were busy men on this day. Photo from Sunderland’s 1964 promotion souvenir brochure

Although the official announcement gave away few details, there were suggestions in the national press that McColl had agreed a 5 year, £6,000 per annum contract. If true, this would have represented a huge investment – an idea that was backed up by the fact that within minutes of signing, the manager was asked to sit in on a board meeting being held to decide whether the club should push ahead with the proposed purchase of star player Jim Baxter.

The big money deal had already been mooted before the appearance of McColl, but with the pair having been teammates at Rangers his input was vital, and the move was soon taken forward. Both men had enjoyed hugely successful careers at Ibrox, and after being appointed Scotland manager in 1960 whilst still playing, it was McColl that had handed Baxter his senior international debut. Two British Home Championships followed, and with several other notable victories too, McColl’s stock quickly rose.

The May arrival meant McColl had plenty of time to get up to speed, but despite seeming like an exciting appointment on paper, Sunderland never really got going under him in all truth. Whilst only a friendly, his first game in charge was a humbling 5-0 defeat to Celtic and two weeks later he saw his charges lose to Leeds United in the opening game of the 1965-66 league campaign in which the side bobbed along in the bottom half of the table for the vast majority.

There were brief flashes of something good materialising, particularly when Baxter was in his pomp. Neil Martin, who was signed from Hibernian, proved popular with the fans too, but rumours of there being major rifts behind the scenes soon started to bubble away and the often disjointed football led to a sometimes alarming drop in attendances.

In McColl’s second season, home form was strong and the team finished marginally higher, albeit with the same number of points as the year before. George Kinnell, who was Baxter’s cousin, was brought in and showed himself to be a solid performer, but the dressing room remained disharmonious, and the squad regularly flattered to deceive. Funds were therefore released in 1967-68 and an overhaul commenced, but it came amidst a dreadful run of results and shortly after a shock FA Cup exit to lower division Norwich City, McColl was dismissed.

Ian McColl oversees the arrival of Ralph Brand in 1967. Photo from the 1994 Sunderland Annual.

It should be noted that during his time at Roker McColl handed debuts to, and helped develop the careers of, Colin Todd and Bobby Kerr - both of whom became firm crowd favourites. He had a good eye for talent certainly, but it was felt in some quarters that the day to day nature of club management did not play to his strengths and after departing aged just 40, he chose to leave to the game entirely.

The owner of a successful garage and filling station near Loch Lomond at the time he took over at Sunderland, McColl had been shrewd enough to guard against the vagaries of football. He had continued his university studies when still playing and after walking away enjoyed a second career as a civil engineer and businessman.

Ian McColl


Alexandria, 7 June 1927


Glasgow, 25 October 2008

First game in charge of SAFC:

Leeds United 1 (Hunter 88)

Sunderland 0

Football League Division One: Elland Road, 21 August 1965

Final game in charge of SAFC:

Sheffield Wednesday 0

Sunderland 1 (Brand 27)

Football League Division One: Hillsborough, 3 February 1968

Stats whilst in charge of SAFC:

Won 40, Drawn 27, Lost 58 (125 games in total)

Charlie Hurley battles for the ball in Ian McColl’s first league game. Photo from the 1990 Sunderland Annual.
Hurley gets stuck in once more as Sunderland take on Leeds United in McColl’s opening game as manager. Photo from The Lads in the Sixties.

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